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Frontier Fury

Born to tame horses, now tasked to hunt killers. Can Frank catch the culprits and deliver justice for the innocent death of his favorite people?

Even if Frank is a tough born Bronc Buster, he never expected he’d turn deputy and soon after investigate Henry’s, his best friend’s, murder. With the help of his Henry’s brother, a self-taught tracker, and a feisty young woman, Cynthia, who witnessed the crime, Frank embarks on a manhunt for the bandits responsible. Will his iron will and sharp eyes bring the guilty to justice or will he run out of time?

Don’t miss out on Zachary McCrae’s western adventure novel—perfect for fans of Louis L’ Amour and C. J Petit!

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Western Historical Adventure Author


4.3 / 5 (191 ratings)

Chapter One

Houston, Texas



The horse reared back, its hooves pawing at the air dangerously close to Frank Harris’s face. The man twisted his body away quickly, but kept his feet planted where they were, refusing to give any ground. He was tall, lean, a dark-haired form in a swirl of dust and dirt.

A chuckle came from one of the cowboys leaning on the corral fence.

“I told him and told him,” the cowboy said to his friend leaning beside him on the rail. “I been after that bronc better part of a month now. Ain’t nothing gonna get that animal in check.”

In the dust of the corral, the horse whinnied and crow hopped, kicking up dirt as it bucked in front of Frank.

“You wantin’ that whip yet?” the cowboy hollered with a laugh.

Frank shot the man a glance, his dark eyes narrowing in frustration at the interruption. He waved a hand at the men as if to say “get on.”

“He tole me he don’t do it that way,” the second cowboy said to his companion.

“Yeah? Well, how else you gonna get an animal to know who it’s dealing with? Them beasts don’t understand nothing but fear. You gotta put the fear in ‘em. Without that, you’re as liable to catch a hoof up the side of the head as anything. This one in particular,” the cowboy spat on the ground, “this one ain’t gonna be good for nothin’. I could tell that the second they brought ‘im in.”

“So why’d you let him in there? Fella’s liable to get hisself killed.”

“Oh, no,” the first cowboy laughed sarcastically. “That’s Frank Harris. The Bronco Buster.” He laughed again. “Claims there ain’t a horse he can’t handle.” He took off his hat and ran a hand through his hair. “To be honest, I probably shouldn’ta let him in there. But, Charles, I tell ya, there’s only so much jawin’ a man can stand listening to. Frank thinks he’s so great; I figured he earned hisself a chance to prove it.”

The other man, Charles, gave his cohort a sidelong glance. “Seems like a tough way to prove a point.”

The man shrugged. “I told him he warn’t gonna pull it off. You know what he told me?”

Charles shook his head.

“He told me my problem was I warn’t putting myself in the horse’s shoes. You ever hear something so backwards as that? I don’t need to be thinking like a horse. I need the horse to start thinking like me.”

Charles chuckled a bit. “So that’s his plan, is it? I wondered. So far it looks like he’s training the horse to not give a care about ‘im.”

“I told him he could take the whip in. Nothing gets an animals attention like a lick from the tip of that. Frank told me he don’t need that. Said if I was a horse, would I wanna get whipped?” He laughed. “Feller went in there with sugar cubes in one pocket and carrots in the other. Be as likely to get his clothes ate off him as anything.”

Charles smirked at the foolishness of the so-called ‘bronc buster,’ and started to roll a cigarette, figuring he might as well enjoy the show. And also provide a second set of hands to drag the man out of harm’s way once things got out of control, as they naturally would.

As Charles struck a match, cupping the flame against a warm breeze, a third man approached the corral, leaning against the split rails and hitching a boot up on the lowest.

“Charles, Mitch,” the man said with a nod.

“Sheriff,” Charles said. The first cowboy, Mitch, tipped his hat.

“That guy’s gonna get hisself trampled one of these days. Sooner rather’n later, I reckon,” Sheriff Jim Stevens said, looking out to where Frank and the horse circled one another.

The Bronc Buster hadn’t tamed the animal, not by a long shot, but Charles was surprised to see the animal was no longer rearing back so violently. As he watched, Frank ever so slowly reached back and pulled a carrot from one of his pockets. Gingerly, the cowboy held it out to the animal, shuffling his feet a few inches closer in the dust.

The horse paused for a moment, sniffing at Frank before suddenly jerking back, racing to the far side of the corral where it reared up by the fence, its wide eyes rolling in its head as it looked about for any way of escape.

“How long’s he been at it?” the sheriff asked.

“Today? Couple hours,” Mitch said. “We just come out for a bit of the show. This’d be, what?” he looked at Charles. “Third? Fourth day this week?”

“‘Bout that,” Charles agreed.

“The man’s got grit, gotta give him that,” the sheriff said. “How long’s he gonna be at it, you think?”

Mitch shrugged. “Till he catches a hoof in the teeth, I reckon,” he laughed. “You got business with him? If so, you might wanna holler at him while he can still talk. That animal’s come mighty close to knocking the sense out him more’n once so far.”

“Not business so much,” Sheriff Jim said, glancing out across the open Texas prairie land which surrounded the ranch. The tall grasses reached out toward the horizon, swaying in the evening breeze, purple and yellow flowers standing out in the green in dots and clusters. “More like news, I guess.”

“Ain’t never a good thing when the sheriff brings yer news,” Charles said, then, catching Jim’s irritated glance, added, “no offense.”

Mitch ignored his friend’s interjection. “Man out there’s used to bad news by now, from what I hear.”

“Nah,” Jim said, taking off his hat and hanging it on the fencepost next to his arm. “Can’t nobody ever get used to bad news. Maybe less surprised, but even that only lasts for a bit. First time or hundredth time, you always wonder why.”

“You’re talking like somebody died,” Charles said, leaning over the fence to see the sheriff.

“Couple a somebodies,” Jim said. “But I ain’t here to tell y’all about it.” He climbed up on the fence rail, grabbing his hat and waving it above his head, trying to get Frank’s attention.

For the first time in a few minutes, Charles looked back out into the corral, stunned to see the horse ever so timidly reaching out its neck to nip at the carrot in Frank’s outstretched hand.

“I’ll be,” he said and nudged Mitch with an elbow. “You see that?”

“Yeah,” Mitch spit on the ground and turned back toward the barn behind them. “That horse ain’t broke yet.”

“Purdy darn near it, I’d say,” Charles said, hurrying after his friend.


Frank pulled out the chair in Sheriff Stevens’ office, settling himself down across the desk from the man.

“Look,” the sheriff said, taking a seat, “I know you been through a lot, what with that Hayward quake, and what happened with your kin, but I figure if anybody’s gonna have some ideas on this one, you’d be the man to come to.”

Frank rubbed at the stubble along his jawline, looking out the lone dusty window on this side of the sheriff’s office. It was folks like this that made him prefer horses. With a horse, you know where you stand. You treat the horse right, sooner or later he figures it out and treats you right as well. With people, though…Frank sighed.

With people, you ended up with situations like this. Folks looking to work you for any bit of help you can give them, pretending all the while to be your best friend and partner. Sure, Stevens knew about the quake and Frank’s family. It wasn’t exactly like he kept it a secret. But it wasn’t something he liked bandying about too much either.

It had been three years since the earthquake hit Hayward, California, where Frank’s aunt and uncle had their farm. Folks for miles around felt it. Some said it was just a rattling of their dishes in the cupboard; others, his kin among them, weren’t left with a stick of homestead still standing. Sadly, for his aunt and uncle, their little house couldn’t withstand the shaking and had collapsed with them inside. Frank had been on his way to town when it’d hit that morning, knocking him and his horse off their feet. He’d heard later the ground split open from San Leandro to Fremont, darn near twenty miles of earth just ripped apart.

At twenty-nine, though, he didn’t have time for much mourning. He’d been living on the ranch for so long at that point there was no question about who was responsible for it. The days in the courthouse, the hours with the lawyers, all so he could finally wash his hands of the affair and try to put it behind him. He’d never felt right in California anyway. Sure, he was with family, and he was more than thankful he’d had somewhere to go when he needed to, but it wasn’t ever his home. As he’d so often heard, you could take the boy out of Texas…

Nevertheless, it was a bittersweet move back to Houston. It was his hometown, but after pneumonia had taken his mother and father from him when he was only twelve, thereby forcing the move to his uncle’s, he’d never felt quite comfortable in the city. He’d come back after the quake simply because he couldn’t think of anywhere else to go.

And not having a plan was something that never set well with Frank Harris.

After his folks had passed, he’d set out almost on his own to find his uncle in Hayward. After the quake, he’d come back, just as determined to keep moving forward. It wasn’t after any clear goal or grand scheme, even he would admit that, but sitting idle never made a success out of anyone. He’d learned more than enough from his uncle about breaking horses and Houston was as good a place to work as any. At least he knew his way around, even made himself a few friends.

But now this.

“Sounds like you don’t know too terribly much,” Frank said, looking back at the sheriff.

Stevens tilted his head to look Frank over closely, apparently unsure how to take the remark. Frank was used to that reaction, but he wasn’t one to waste words and get too carried away when it came to how he presented himself. Facts don’t change because they hurt your feelings. If they were going to do something, they needed to get to doing.

“Not a lot,” Stevens said. “Levi’s brother, Richard, said he’d be willing to help me out with looking into it. Said you might be willing to do the same.”

Frank crossed one leg over the other, patting a bit of dust from his trousers. “I reckon I’d be willing to consider it,” he said. “Not sure precisely what you want with a wrangler though.”

Stevens eyed him for a moment, then leaned forward. “Here’s the thing, Frank. There are darn near ten thousand people in this town, and I’m just one sheriff. This ain’t the good old days when we were all quaint and everybody knowed his neighbors. I got a lot a square miles I’m responsible for and I ain’t too big of a man to say when I need some help. You knew Levi. Richard knew Levi. So, right now, you seem like the two fellers I need to be talking to. I don’t mean to sound cold here, but when a man and his wife turn up dead, I tend to like closing that case quick.”

Frank nodded. “That’s a lotta folks to be watching.”

“It is,” Stevens said, looking at Frank with his head cocked to the side. “So you can see my predicament. That’s ten thousand folks I need to protect.”

“Or ten thousand folks to sort through,” Frank said.

“Could be,” the sheriff replied. “For all I know right now, this was just someone passing through. That’s why I need you and Richard to come with me, at least at first. Give me an idea what to be looking for.”

“And if I don’t know nothing?”

“Then you don’t,” Stevens shrugged. “And I’m right here in the same position as now.”

Frank picked at a burr on his pants, thinking for a moment. The man had a point. If nothing came of it, nothing came of it. The last thing he wanted to do was get caught up in a murder, but Levi had been his friend, in some ways the only person he really felt comfortable around. And what had happened to him and Lorraine, well, there wasn’t any way to justify it. At least not as far as Frank could see.

“All right,” Frank said finally, looking over at Stevens. “I’m with you on two conditions.”

“What’s that?” the sheriff asked.

“One, we don’t do this halfway. You want my help, then I ain’t stopping till we got the man who did this. One way or another, someone’s gonna be held to account.”

Stevens nodded. “That’s typically how I like to do things as well. The other condition?”

Frank stood up and adjusted his hat on his head. “We start now.”

Chapter Two

The three men paused for a moment on the porch of Levi Henrickson’s house. Or perhaps his last house, Frank thought. He’d been here more times than he could count, often with Levi’s brother Richard, who he and Sheriff Stevens had stopped to pick up along the way.

Richard was the younger of the two Henrickson boys, though both had a few years on Frank’s thirty-two. At a certain point though, the number didn’t matter so much anymore. Frank had first met Levi when he was fresh in from California, looking for work after the Hayward quake had taken all his chips from the table. Levi had been more than willing to help—though, Frank smiled to think back, cleaning out the stalls on this ranch was a far cry from the kind of horse work he had been looking for.

But he also knew Levi wasn’t in any kind of need for a stableboy. He’d just seen a man who was willing to work and had given him the opportunity.

Both the Henrickson fellas were like that. Straight shooters. Not afraid of a day’s work, but not out to prove anything either. They kept to their own when it came to anything outside of recreation and, Frank realized in hindsight, had acted almost out of character in allowing him to throw in his lot with them for the first month or so he’d been in town.

Frank looked over to Richard. The younger man’s usually smiling face was somber. Of the two, Richard had always been more likely to wear his emotions on his sleeve, and most of the time, it was Richard’s positive outlook that made even the most tedious job if not pleasant, then at least bearable. The job ahead of them now, however, had no silver lining. Justice needed to be served, and Frank had no doubt it would be, but that didn’t make their task any more enviable.

“You recall when I first come here?” Frank asked Richard.

“Yup,” the young man said, glancing over.

“What made y’all take me on? I ain’t never thought about it much afore now, but that ain’t exactly how Levi run things.”

Richard shrugged. “I told him to.”

Frank was surprised. “How’s that? I hadn’t even met you yet.”

“I seen ya ride in. Folks remembered who you was.”

“I’d been gone nigh on twenty years. A lot can change in that amount of time.”

Richard shrugged again. “You seemed like a straight shooter. Besides.” He grinned just slightly. “It ain’t like we had to keep you. I told Levi if he didn’t like ya after an hour to kick your hide back out in the street.”

Frank sniffed a small laugh. “Fair enough. Glad I didn’t know that till now.”

Sheriff Stevens had been examining the windows on the front of the ranch house, running his finger along the wooden frames. He turned to Richard. “When was the last time you was out here?”

“Day ‘fore last, I reckon,” Richard said.

“And you?” Jim Stevens looked to Frank.

“Oh,” he scratched at his jaw. “Couple weeks maybe.”

“Nah,” Richard said. “Levi had ya come out and look at that mustang.”

Frank nodded. “Week and a half then, that’d make it.”

Saying nothing, the sheriff turned back and started examining the doorframe with the same minute attention.

“All the same to you, Sheriff,” Frank said, “I’d just as soon get in there and see what we can see. Ain’t really any question somebody got in. You can deal with the hows out here if ya like, but I think me and Rich here might be better spending our time in there.”

Stevens looked over at him, seeming to consider the plan. “All right,” he said, slowly, “but don’t go messing about too much, ya hear?”

“Yes, sir,” Frank tipped his hat and shot a sidelong glance at Richard.

Levi’s house was not known for its extravagance. Any bit of color or comfort had been his wife Lorraine’s doing, as Levi had been quick to point out. It was funny, in its own way, Frank had thought more than once. It wasn’t that Levi was so spartan, but that he seemed genuinely pleased with the way his wife had created a home out of a house.

Levi was no stranger to creative things; the leatherwork he added to his saddles and the occasional holster was a testament to that. But he seemed hesitant to reach out too far into this area. It was Lorraine who able to convince him that just because something had to be useful didn’t mean it couldn’t also be pleasing to look at.

Frank walked into the front living area, Richard following closely behind before wandering over to the stone fireplace and looking down at the cold ashes in the hearth.

The murders had taken place here. It was clear no one had attempted to put the place to rights, outside of removing the bodies. Even that, given the sheriff’s insistence on examining every tiny detail, was a bit of a surprise.

“What do you reckon he’s looking for out there?” Frank asked Richard.

Turning a crushed porcelain figure over in his hand, Richard looked up and shrugged. “Don’t reckon I care too much at this moment. Let him entertain himself. You and me know this place better than anybody else. You and me know Levi and Lorraine better than anybody else, outside of Levi and Lorraine. So, what I wanna know is, what do you reckon brought somebody in here like that? Levi ain’t the sweetest guy in the world, even I’ll say that, but he warn’t one to go out looking for trouble neither.”

“No,” Frank mused, walking slowly around an overturned chair in the middle of the room. “He wasn’t an easy man to make friends with, but he wasn’t an easy man to offend either.”

Frank squatted down next to the chair. It, like most of the furniture in the house, had been made from leftover materials from other, more “necessary” projects: a barn raising, a new fence for the corral, a run-in for the horses. Scrapwood or not though, you’d never be able to tell. Levi had been meticulous in his work, whether it was utilitarian or not. The legs of this chair in particular bore circled and intertwining lines carved into the wood, giving it an almost natural look, like the legs had been small branches Levi had just happened to find and slap together.

“Don’t touch that,” Jim Stevens said, stepping into the room.

“I ain’t planning on walkin’ off with it,” Frank said, standing up. “Besides, you know what happened here. Least we can do is try to set the place to rights.”

“Not yet,” Stevens said, turning to examine the inside of the door frame. “First we figure out what happened here, then we figure out who woulda done it.”

Richard caught Frank’s eye. “My brother and his wife got shot in their own daggone sitting room is what happened,” the young man said. “I don’t know how long you need to wrap your head around that one, but I feel like the two dead bodies shoulda done the trick well enough.”

Stevens replied without looking over at the man. “Sure, sure, they got shot. But how? From inside? Outside? Did they know the person? The door and the windows look fine, which makes me think whoever was here was let in the house by either your brother or Lorraine. So we have to wonder, was it someone they knew? Your brother was known for being polite, but would he be hospitable enough to let in a stranger?”

Richard sighed. “Depends on who it was and what he wanted.”

“Or if there was even one man,” Stevens said. “The first thing we have to do is take our time. We have to try and figure out what happened here exactly. Then we start thinking about who coulda done it.”

“I tell you what,” Frank said, seeing Richard begin to show signs of impatience. “How about you get on with your speculatin’ and me and Rich’ll go look around the rest of the house. See if we see anything that ain’t right.”

Stevens tossed a glance over his shoulder. “Yes, I reckon you oughtta do that. It’s what I brung ya along for anyway. Y’all know what oughtta be here and what ain’t, or what has no business being here in the first place. Take a gander, but don’t move nothing.”

“C’mon,” Frank gestured to Richard, heading for the stairs that led to the upper floor.

The house was of a common construction. The ground floor had an open living area in front, a large fireplace in one wall, making the only real boundary between the sitting and kitchen spaces. Under the stairs was a small desk Lorraine had used mostly for letter-writing and bookkeeping.

Upstairs were two bedrooms, the large main one having been used by Levi and his wife, the other, ostensibly for children, though through choice or the Lord’s will Levi and Lory hadn’t ever brought any younguns into the world. As it stood now, it was a kind of extra or guest room. At least, that had been the original plan.

Levi had slowly begun taking over the space, first moving in a desk, then small parts and pieces of projects. The last time Frank had been upstairs there had been furniture legs, pieces of leather, tools spread across the desk, even a few books on the spare bed.

“You wanna look in there or the main one?” Frank said, gesturing to the extra room.

Richard shrugged. It was a noncommittal gesture and out of character for the younger Henrickson man. Richard would be the first to admit his choices weren’t always the best ones, but he went after everything with a resolve and dedication that Frank had always admired. Now, today, every question seemed to be met with a kind of lackadaisical apathy that showed more of Richard’s distress than any overt act of emotion would.

“You take the bedroom then,” Frank said. “I wouldn’t know what is and ain’t supposed to be there anyhow.”

Richard nodded and went off to the right. Frank watched him for a moment and then headed down the landing to the left, into the messy, but somehow organized extra space.

If someone had ransacked the place, there was a good chance nobody would ever know. Since Frank had seen it last, the room had taken on more of a catch-all feel than even he had been prepared for. Items were piled on the bed, the floor, on a set of shelves that were new since Frank’s last visit. He followed a small clear path that led from the door to the desk chair and, moving a few papers from the seat, sat down, looking around him.

The desk top was mostly covered with leatherworking tools. Punches, bevelers, awls, groovers. Loose leather sat in stacks, cording and twine were curled around wooden spools or looped in on themselves. Frank picked up a box slicker, rolling the rectangular piece of wood between his hands.

Disorganized, sure, the place was disorganized. But it wasn’t in a shambles. The desk drawers, for instance, were all closed. The piles of items were still stacked in a like-with-like type of order. All the leatherworking tools were within reach on the table top. Whatever had happened in the house the previous evening apparently hadn’t made it up to this space.

He turned in his chair, opening the thin drawer in the middle of the desk. A few pencil stubs, some loose pieces of paper. He reached a hand in, feeling toward the back of the space. His fingers brushed across something solid. Frank allowed himself a small smile. He’d long had his suspicions that Levi kept some kind of journal, though he’d never come right out and said so. But a man with a memory like Levi had had certainly must’ve been meticulous in other ways.

He pulled the small, leatherbound book out. The cover was only slightly embellished, surprising considering the talent Levi had shown for working this material. He flipped open to a page at random and had just begun to read when he heard Richard call out.

“Got something, I think,” the young man said from across the way.

Frank tucked the book inside his jacket pocket, figuring if nothing else, it would be nice to pass on to Richard later, and headed out to the landing. Sheriff Stevens had apparently also heard the words in the small house and was halfway up the stairs before Richard was out of the bedroom.

“What is it?” Stevens asked immediately, a look of almost surprise on his face.

“Ain’t much,” Richard said, “but it ain’t theirs neither.” He held up a brownish-green bandana, the typical paisley pattern standing out in contrasts of black and what was now a dirty white.

“Where’d you find that?” Stevens snapped.

Richard hitched a thumb over his shoulder. “In there, behind the door. Ain’t a color Lory would’ve ever picked out, and Lord knows it’d been a dog’s age since Levi went around picking out his own clothes.”

“You should’n’t’ve moved it,” Stevens snatched the bandana from Richard’s hands. “If I can’t trust you to not be moving things around, just wait for me outside.”

Frank saw Richard’s jaw muscles clench. The man was doing his best to stay stoic, calm, while they looked through the house of his murdered brother, but that didn’t mean he wouldn’t be happy to vent some frustration on the first available target. And with the attitude Stevens was starting to show, he was making himself the prime opportunity.

“That ain’t a bad idea,” Frank spoke up before Richard could say anything. He walked across the landing and took his friend by the arm. “I think a little fresh air might do us a bit of good.”

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  • Interesting beginning as we are introduced to Frank and Rich and the tragedy of Rich’s brother and sister-in-law’s murder. Can’t wait to continue the story.

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